By: Lowell Johnson, Crow Wing Energized Mental Fitness Goal Group and ACE Interface Network
Recent research in brain development and public health has confirmed what we have known by common sense and other research for years. When children are mistreated, they grow into adults who have physical, mental and social problems.
The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study, initially done in the 1990s and widely replicated since, proves that child maltreatment causes harm to individuals, families, and communities. The ACE research studied 17,000 adults. Participants were asked if any of the following happened to them as children.
Physical or emotional neglect were two forms of adversity. The category of abuse included its physical, emotional and sexual manifestations. Under the general category of household dysfunction, participants were asked if in their family they had mental illness, alcohol or chemical dependency, witnessed domestic violence, were separated from a parent, or had an incarcerated family member.
The total number of ACEs is ten, and each participant was given an ACE score ranging from 0 to 10. This ACE score was then compared to the extensive medical histories of each adult.
One important finding was that 67% of adults had one or more ACE. Participants with four or more ACEs (16%) had significantly greater chances of suffering from a range of medical and/or emotional and social problems.
These conditions included heart, liver and lung disease, diabetes, HIV, depression, suicide attempts, anxiety, obesity, sexual behavior problems, domestic violence, unintended pregnancy, and workplace problems.
In addition to the statistical link between ACEs and health problems, advances in neuroscience have now shown why the ACEs do so much damage to brain development.
When people are under stress, the brain produces a chemical called cortisol to help us deal successfully with the stressful situation. Cortisol is normally metabolized within 20 minutes, and the brain returns to a normal functioning state. The problem is that children growing up in ACEs environments experience toxic doses of cortisol. These toxic doses interfere with normal brain development and can actually destroy seedling cells in the brain, which are meant to develop later in life. We now know that the brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties. Healthy brain development is something we need to pay attention to and promote for a long time.
Fortunately, although ACES are a huge social and financial problem for society, research also shows us how to prevent and heal from the ACES, or at the least diminish their negative effects.
Research shows the solution to the ACES problem lies in building resiliency in individuals, relationships, and communities. The strategies for building resiliency – the ability to bounce back from stressful life situations – involve a concept called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to form new neural pathways throughout our lives. People who have had negative patterns of thinking, emotions and behavior wired into their brains from ACEs can literally re-wire their brains to more positive patterns.
Fortunately for our community, the Mental Fitness Goal Group of Crow Wing Energized is sponsoring a training on November 3 and 4. Participants in this training will learn the ACE Interface framework, which goes in depth into neuroscience, the ACE study, and resiliency building. One significant outcome of this training will be the formation of a local cohort of people able to bring forward ACEs awareness and resiliency building to our community.
For more information on this training please visit CrowWingEnergized.org, space is limited.